A Simple Mindfulness Practice to Transform Cravings and Compulsions

A Simple Mindfulness Practice to Transform Cravings and Compulsions

Do you feel a chronic sense of needing something out there to be ok? A new diet, more food, wine or coffee, a new self-improvement book or program, or maybe even approval and achievement? Do you feel a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction and “not yet being there”? Of postponing your life until you feel like you’ve got the body, the weight, the success you desire?

Trust me, I get it. When I was in the middle of a struggle with compulsive overeating, depression, fatigue and anxiety years ago, I spent my life on a tireless quest to "find the fix."

But the more I inundated myself with more food, more information, dietary theories, and countless books on self improvement and health, the more disconnected I became from my own inner wisdom. I had abandoned my body and heart in search of the fix out there. And this only reinforced the feeling of emptiness I felt within. And, all the while, I was literally waiting to live until I felt like I had my health and weight issues under control: waiting to meet a partner, to wear that sexy new dress, to finally pursue my life’s work. I felt like. . . A hungry ghost.

The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, in Buddhism, refers to the aspect of human experience that is perpetually seeking something outside of the self to fill an emptiness that is sensed within. This realm is inhabited by creatures depicted with scrawny necks, small mouths, and large bloated but empty bellies. This is the realm of addiction. In this state of being, we turn to false substitutes - quick hits of pleasure or relief - that ultimately leave us in even more pain. We may find our fix in many different false refuges - overeating, coffee, alcohol, drugs, sex, seeking approval, achievement, overworking, numbing ourselves with TV, and surfing social media. Or we seek false gods, putting all of our energy into having the perfect body, the perfect diet, the perfect life, the perfect house, and more.

And eventually we lose contact with the fullness of who we are. We start identifying with this contracted and smaller sense of ourselves. We see ourselves as the overeater, the addict, the overspender, the overachiever, the people pleaser, the perfectionist, the over-caffeinated workaholic, or the television binge-aholic, rather than recognizing these states of being as temporary, transient experiences of the body and mind.

But within every addictive tendency or compulsive behavior is an invitation to come more fully into the wholeness of who we are. To cultivate presence and inhabit our body and hearts more fully, to make life-affirming rather than self-destructive choices, and to reconnect with a sense of limitless possibility rather than dwelling in a confined, narrow idea of who we are and why we’re here.

So how do we come back home to ourselves in the midst of the chaos and craziness of modern living? How do we hold space for this contracted mind-state while reconnecting with the pure loving being-ness that is our true state? For many years now, I’ve been practicing, what some refer to as RAIN, and it’s been an essential stepping stone in my own journey to releasing an old pattern of compulsive overeating.

RAIN is an acronym for a mindfulness practice developed by Michelle McDonald, a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society, and expanded upon by Diana Winston in the book Wide Awake and Tara Brach in True Refuge. This mindfulness practice is at the heart of most Transformational Coaching frameworks.

Here’s a walk-through of the RAIN mindfulness practice:

R: Recognize. Notice what you are experiencing, thinking or feeling. Are you feeling hooked on getting approval, recognition, or success? Is there an intense craving present for a particular food or substance? A compulsion to spend money? Become the witness. Name whatever is arising simply (the thoughts, feelings, experience, craving, aversion etc), without story.

A: Allow. Pause to acknowledge your experience and be with it without judging it or trying to change it. Practice compassionate presence with whatever is arising.

I: Investigate. With an attitude of curiosity, openness, and tenderness open to the experience. Where is it in your body? What does it feel like? Are you judging yourself for having the craving or compulsion? If you satisfied the craving, what would you experience then?

N: Nurture. Shift your awareness from identifying with the small sliver of experience that is currently arising to embodying the wholeness of your being. Recognize that this thought, experience, or feeling is just a tiny aspect of the totality of who you are. As you expand into loving presence, extend compassionate care towards this part of you that is having the experience, just as a mother might do with a small child. If you are having a hard time disidentifying from this limited self and coming into the fullness of your being, then call on a source of loving presence - the Divine Mother, God, a Higher Power, or whatever it might be for you. Imagine yourself being surrounded by and filled with this love and warmth. What does this part of the self need right now from you? How can you be with it in a healing way?

As we practice mindfulness and loving presence, we start to feel the waves of desire without latching onto the object that we believe will create a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and enoughness. And we learn to treat moments of compulsive craving as signposts to come back home to ourselves. To be present and open with the unfolding of the present moment.

Further Reading If You feel Called:

The Gift of Our Compulsions: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing by Mary O’Malley

True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart by Tara Brach

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté

If you would like more support in working with cravings and compulsions, cultivating presence and mindfulness in everyday life, and coming more into your sovereignty as a woman, I’d love to connect in a free discovery call.

Jessie Kuehn